Room for the River

a stepping stone in Adaptive Delta Management


  • C. Zevenbergen Delft University of Technology
  • J. Rijke UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education
  • S. van Herk UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education
  • P.J.T.M. Bloemen Staff Delta Programme Commissioner


adaptive management, multi-level governance, flood risk management


This paper explores how the Room for the River Program contributes to the introduction
of adaptive delta management (ADM) as applied by the Delta Program in The Netherlands.
The concept of Room for the River is based on a holistic, integrated approach embracing a
multi-functional river in which flood safety is realized in combination with other values such
as landscape, environmental and cultural values. This new approach acknowledges the need for
learning (which is a key feature of adaptive management) and more flexibility to deal with an
uncertain future as river widening inherently provides future flexibility. On the basis of the results
presented in this paper it is argued that Room for the River can be considered a stepping stone
in ADM of the Delta Program as it has become the new standard for flood risk management in
the Netherlands to take a system approach, embrace experimentation and learning and involve
multiple stakeholders. Within the development and implementation of Room for the River these
enabling elements, have influenced and shaped the institutional processes and practices on which
the Delta Program is founded and of which new concepts and approaches could emerge (such as
multi-layer safety, adaptation pathways). This evolutionary process of strategy development has
resulted in the following unique features of ADM of the Delta Program: 1) short term actions are
linked to long term goals; 2) flexibility is valued and incorporated in strategic policy-making; 3)
multiple strategies are considered in a rational manner (adaptive pathways); and 4) different
investment agendas are inter-linked. These features may also provide guidance for other countries
that are attempting to reform their flood risk management strategies.


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How to Cite

Zevenbergen, C., Rijke, J. ., van Herk, S. ., & Bloemen, P. . (2015). Room for the River: a stepping stone in Adaptive Delta Management. International Journal of Water Governance, 3(3), 121–140. Retrieved from

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